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What is that stuff?

I am wondering what that stuff is that my family gives me the first day of every month. It tastes okay but why do they give that to me? My family says something about it keeps heartworms away. What are heartworms anyway???

Bulldog with a mosquitto on his head
Image from

I have to take a monthly medication to prevent heartworm disease and my veterinarian says this is very important. Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease, but it is also a preventable disease in pets.

the heart of an animal with many worms within it it
Photo by American Heartworm Society

It is caused when a mosquito bites an infected animal (could be a fox, coyote, dog, or other animal) and microscopic baby worms (larva) are transferred in the blood. These infected larvae are then transferred to a new host when the infected mosquito bites another animal (such as me) and larvae are laid in the site of the bite. These larvae mature into adult heartworms within about 6 months. This picture shows what that looks like inside an animal’s heart.

If left untreated, the heartworms cause permanent damage to the organs and circulatory system of the infected animal.

Heartworm disease can occur in any of the 50 states. States with the highest incidence are in the Southeastern United States and factors such as climate and the presence of wildlife carriers are thought to be the reasons why. This map illustrates areas with the highest incidence in 2013. Dark red areas have the highest rate in heartworm; NC rates within the top 10 highest states.

2013 map of US with incidents of heartworm shown
Image courtesy of NHS Statictics

Treating a dog that tests positive for heartworm disease is expensive, time consuming, and difficult for the dog and owner. Rescue organizations state that it costs approximately $500-$1000 to treat an infected dog. It typically requires about 4 months for the treatment to be completed. During the time that the dog is in treatment, it must be confined and is restricted from exercising. This means that the amount of time that the dog remains in rescue is lengthened which delays adoption to a "furever" home.

Now that we both know more about heartworm disease, I want you to be responsible and have your pet tested for heartworms annually. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for providing a heartworm preventative medication once a month. It only takes 1 bite by an infected mosquito for heartworm disease to be transmitted. We dogs don’t like the idea of not being able to take walks and run and play either. My veterinarian tells my “humans” that it is unlikely that they can get heartworm disease.

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